Recent debates in Mississippi and North Carolina have raised many questions about how to protect the specific legal rights of the LGBT community. As a business owner, one of the most important steps you can take is to look closely at your current anti-discrimination policies and make sure they comply with current EEOC interpretations of Title VII. Here’s what you need to know.
What the Law Says
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The EEOC interprets the term “sex” to include gender identity and sexual orientation.
Protections under Title VII include:
- Recruiting and hiring. Hiring practices can be deemed discriminatory if they require qualifications or knowledge not essential to the performance of the job and/or they disproportionately exclude certain groups of people (for example, soliciting applications from a school or area which lacks diversity). Hiring decisions may not be based on statistics about sexual orientation or offer preferential treatment to a particular group.
- Terms of employment/advancement. Compensation, benefits, work assignments, training, and opportunities for advancement should not be based on an employee’s race, color, or sexual orientation.
- Work environment. The work environment should be free from hostility or harassment including slurs, jokes, negative comments, and verbal or physical attacks. In addition, employees should not be assigned to specific types of jobs or locations based on race, color, or sexual orientation.
How to Ensure EEOC Compliance In Your Business
Most business are eager to comply with EEOC guidelines, but it isn’t always clear whether current practices could create opportunities for discrimination. These five steps will help you protect the rights of all workers within your organization:
1. Understand EEOC interpretations of the law. It’s important to recognize not just the broad application of Title VII, but also the specific ways in which it has been interpreted with regard to LGBT workers. Take a look at recent legal claims so you will know what types of behaviors you should be protecting against. For example, failing to hire an applicant because he or she is transgender, denying a promotion based on sexual orientation, or denying spousal benefits to a same sex couple could all be considered EEOC violations.
2. Review spousal and domestic partner benefits. Federal law now requires that same-sex spouses be offered spousal benefits. Many businesses discontinued their domestic partner benefits after the supreme court decision that overturned DOMA, but others chose to offer benefits both to same-sex and opposite-sex domestic partners. Whichever approach you choose, make sure benefits apply equally to all employees.
3. Take a close look at your training programs. Good training informs both employees and management of their rights and responsibilities under the law. It should also describe unacceptable behaviors and delineate consequences for violating anti-discrimination policies. When problems arise, managers should be able to consistently enforce the policy in order to protect employees and prevent liability. Questions to ask:
- Do you have clearly stated, written anti-discrimination policies?
- Do your managers know the policy and do they follow it?
- Do you have consequences in place for violations?
- Do you have a clearly stated grievance process?
- Can information and resources be easily accessed online or elsewhere in the organization?
5. Review your FMLA polices. Since the repeal of DOMA, federal FMLA requirements must be extended to same-sex spouses and legal common law partners in every state. You may also choose to provide leave for employees to care for a domestic partner or children of a domestic partner as long as these opportunities are available equally to both same-sex and opposite-sex couples.
Anti-discrimination must be more than an ideal; it must also be a reality. These five steps will help you make your workplace a positive, productive environment for every employee while also protecting yourself from potential legal action.